Blackhawks

Cautiously optimistic: Toews feeling better

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Cautiously optimistic: Toews feeling better

Jonathan Toews walked into the Johnnys Ice House locker room with a smile on his face. Its been a long few weeks for the Blackhawks captain, who was coming back nicely, then had a setback, and now is hopefully recovering again from his concussion.

But hes not pegging a game for his return. Not again.

Im not going to do that again, he said with a grin. Obviously that didnt work out (last time).

No, it didnt. But Toews, after skating for the fifth consecutive day - and practicing with teammates for the first time in nearly two weeks -- is nevertheless feeling better. And hes feeling that this time he could be truly turning the corner towards recovery.

Toews is confident hell play this season.

It sucks its taken this long but I feel this is it, Toews said Saturday. Mentally Im positive and telling myself that Ill get through this. Im not going to let the setbacks that have happened (before) weigh me down.

Coach Joel Quenneville said Toews jumped into a couple drills there and looked fine. Theres progress there, so well keep working at it.

Toews was feeling good after skating four straight days in early March, so good that he was targeting the Blackhawks March 13 game vs. St. Louis as a potential return date. But he suffered a setback a day or two before that, and was once again on the shelf. Toews said he wouldnt feel right when he got up in the morning, or symptoms would hit him when he came to the rink, hoping to take the ice.

Ive gotta say its probably the most frustrating thing Ive been through, he said. I had those hopes and feelings that I was going to be ready not even a week into the recovery process. Here I am past a month, still waiting to see when its going to get better the way I was three weeks ago. When you wake up every single day thinking this will be the day youll break through and things are going to happen for you, and it turns out it isnt, its tough to keep going that way.

Toews will obviously keep playing the cautious game. Even when hes deemed 100 percent, he may take another day or two to fully prepare for game action again.

Id love to be playing as soon as I can and get a couple of those games under my belt. At the same time I want to make sure Im in game shape before I go into the game, he said. I dont want to go in feeling like I still need conditioning, still need to catch up. If youre a step slow you may take a hit or two you dont want to take.

Its been a long and frustrating road for Toews. Hes hoping this is the end of the rough part of it.

I feel like Im getting back to that stage where Im progressing and getting closer to feeling the right way, he said. It was a while ago when I felt pretty much the same way I do now. Im just staying positive and hoping theres a time Ill break through.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."